I recently met this cool guy because we live in the same place. Though he’s not that nerdy (by that, I mean super mathy), we still share many common interests. For instance, he expressed interest when I told him a bit about 艾思奇(Ai Siqi). Additionally, he told me about his appreciation for André Weil and Simone Weil, particularly her mysticism, which I found quite pleasing as I was reading about them not long ago. He also told me about this guy who is trying to understand Mochizuki’s “proof” of the abc conjecture despite being not long out of undergrad, who has plenty of other quirks and eccentric behaviors. Like, that guy joined some Marxist collective, and goes on drunken rants at 3 am, and is in general “aspie af,” something that he described me as too when messaging that guy himself. There is also: “he would literally kill himself if he had to do a tech job.” (laughter) That guy’s dad happens to be a (tenured) math professor from mainland China, more evidence that madness runs in families.
The guy that is the topic of this post himself did up to high school, as far as I know, in Hong Kong, so we have some more in common than usual culturally I guess. He was just telling me about how he had read 矛盾论, which I haven’t even read, at least not in detail, myself. He was saying, on the putative connection between scientific talent and Marxism, perhaps how dialectical materialism is inherently a very scientific way of thinking. I myself know basically nothing about dialectical materialism and even think it’s kind of high verbal low math bullshit, but I can tell that the materialist side of it is very scientific in its very nature, and similarly, dialectics is a very analogies/relationships way of thinking, which is something that high IQ people are by definition good at. Surely, there is much more I can learn from this guy, especially about Chinese language and culture and politics.
On this, I am reminded of another amateur (but professional, or better, level for sure) Marxist scholar, who is genuinely encyclopedic in his historical and cultural knowledge, in particularly a perceptive quote of him that made a deep impression on me:
Europe has always been in rebellion against itself, and continues to be so. There was nothing but futility in the attempt by superficially Westernised Chinese to be authentically Westernised Chinese by being imitative and reverential of the current embodiment of those values. You could only be an authentically Westernised Chinese by being a rebel against the current embodiments of Western values, at least in as far as they hampered China or seemed to be irrelevant. And that’s why Mao was China’s best Westerniser to date, despite his very limited experience of the mundanities of Western life.
As I’ll detail in a future article, visitors to the Chinese Communist bases at Bao’an and later Yen’an noticed that these were the only Chinese in China who behaved more or less as Westerners would have behaved in a similar situation. Other Chinese might speak good English, wear Western suits and sometimes show considerable knowledge of Western culture: but it was all imitation and the inner core was different and ineffective. Western-trained engineers and geologists who returned to China kept their distance from hands-on practical work, because anything resembling manual labour would have lost them status in the eyes of Chinese intellectuals. They were imprisoned by a tradition stretching back to Confucius and beyond. Only a few broke these ancient taboos, mostly the Communists and some scattered left-wingers in the weak middle ground. And it was the modernised Chinese in the Communist Party who chose to raise up Mao as the prime teacher of this new understanding.
I remember when my obsessively talented Russian friend once said to me that sometimes he feels like he’s another Pavel Korchagin, I thought he was ridiculous. Well, I’ll be equally ridiculous and say that I feel like I very much exhibit what Gwydion described in Mao that is “authentically Westernized Chinese,” which is very much the antithesis of what I see in most ABCs, despite being half an ABC myself.
If only more people could be like me…